On Monday, August 31st, along with a wide cast of concerned people, I offered testimony to the NYS Wage Board. It was very encouraging to hear the voices of so many people. In all the opinions offered by those in agriculture I felt they presented a very clear vision of what could happen. It was nice to hear voices from younger future farmers in this discussion. In all, I was very pleased to hear the effort put forward.
I am sharing the two testimonies I have offered this year. I can only hope that calm cool minds will see the wisdom in not making this transition any more costly. As many people stated, they accept the legislation, they are asking for time to transition under this act.
Fruit farm A expects to harvest 120,000 bushels of apples this year. History has told them that they should expect, on average, that a person will harvest 100 bushels/day. So this farm will need 1200 man days to harvest this crop. The farm has 24 beds. This means each bed (man) should pick 5000 bushels. So this man has 50 days to accomplish this. In the past the men have averaged 60 hours per week. If we are forced to cut each man’s hours back to 40 hours per week than we will need more days to harvest or more men to accomplish the job.
Weather and fruit ripening dictate that we do not have more time. We must accomplish this task in the 50 days. So the only solution is that we need more men. If a man picks 100 bushels each day then he will harvest 400 bushels per week. So 120,000 bushels divided by 400 bushels will mean we need 300 man weeks if we hold the worker to 40 hours per week. So we have gone from 24 men harvesting 120,000 bushels in 50 days to now needing 30 men to pick the crop.
So we will need 6 more beds and pay transportation cost of $1300 per man, Visa of $190 per man an additional $150 per man travel for extra time and food from port to port. So Fruit Farm A will have to first construct housing for 6 more men. Second, the additional travel will be $1640 plus free housing while on the farm per extra man. This is $9840 additional variable cost to get the same amount of work completed. His costs have risen by 19.5% to get the same amount of work done. Plus the costs of new housing.
In short, this is a deal breaker. The original 24 men will not be happy only getting 40 hours per week. Realistically I expect this group to source employment in other regions. The idle time will no doubt become an issue. Buyers of this crop will not offer a premium for this fruit. They will source the highest quality for the lowest price.
In short, this fruit farm will be priced out of the market. His cost per bushel will be higher than other regions. He has no way to cover the extra labor cost. The employee will be forced to find employment in another state. Packing house jobs, storage, trucking and more will be lost.
There is a reason that for decades agriculture has been exempt from overtime. The seasonal glut needed makes it impossible to fill harvest jobs for such a short window of time. The perishable nature of this commodity is what makes farming different. The fact that we offer overtime at any level will not attract new employees to meet the seasonal needs.
In conclusion, I think New York State agriculture can and will adjust to the 60 hour level. Many will
choose to drop out or convert to agriculture that is mechanized. To move this to a lower level will force a drastic change in our industry. Farmers do not have to farm in New York State. It will be difficult but if they wish to farm they can relocate. I fail to see what industry will rush to fill the void by this exodus. I am asking for a study to validate my claims. To rush to 40 hours without understanding the net effect will be irresponsible. There is no need to add additional burdens on this industry.
Testimony Presented to Wage Board in Syracuse, NY, March 13, 2020
Early in March I had to run an errand to the east side of Buffalo, NY. I was traveling on a major route about 8 AM. The traffic was only a fraction of the normal weekday. In truth, the roads back in the country had more traffic. This was a reminder to me that here in 2020 we are as a State totally committed to the 40 hour work week. This single regulation is the deciding driver to the length of the work week in the non-agricultural environment.
On the farm we do not have the luxury of saying it can wait till Monday and a fresh set of 40 hours. Livestock has to be fed. Animals are giving birth. Cows need to be milked. Fruit and vegetable crops need to be protected from frosts, insects, disease and ultimately harvested at the proper time. The 24-hour necessity of applying these skills makes it impossible to dictate one 40-hour period each seven days that can be able to do the proper job.
Farms of all types are dealing with live products. Just like a doctor cannot tell a pregnant mother to only deliver in his set 40 hour period of service. The current 60 hour standard will impose economic pressures on our farms and their employees. Commodity prices will not offer a bonus to farms who offer overtime wages. If a farm cannot maintain production costs below sales offerings it will go out of business. The loss of this singular farm unfortunately will, in reality, have little impact on total supply. However, if this story is repeated enough it will impact community values. What will have an immediate impact will be the employees who no longer have a job. Really how have we helped improve the quality of life for these employees?
Overtime came into play during the American depression. The unemployment rate was soaring. FDR saw long bread lines and people seeking some employment. He instituted the 40 hour work week. Any hours after 40 would mean the employer would have to pay 150 % of the agreed wage. FDR was quoted as saying no employer would be willing to pay this and remain competitive. The end result was that it forced employers to curtail hours and reach into the unemployed to offer employment. Same amount of work but now it was being shared by more people. In today’s agriculture we do not have a waiting work force wanting employment for many diverse reasons.
We are an import state to meet our seasonal workforce needs. Employees will have little interest in coming to New York State if they cannot get the maximum opportunity to earn wages in a very short window of time. Simply put, employment options in other states will be the benefactor of such legislation. Farms will be forced to divert to less labor intensive crops. Production will contract. Business and employment will decline. Again how are we helping anyone?